Loughborough University
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“That’s a cause I believe in”: a qualitative investigation of donors’ and practitioners’ understanding of people’s reasons for giving

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posted on 2023-06-29, 08:07 authored by Dave Evans

Critics of modern charitable giving allege that much of this activity fails to produce any positive impact for the beneficiaries of this aid or in making progress towards enacting whatever form of change these causes are trying to address. One reason that has been proposed for this purported failure is that individual donors choose to give according to their personal preferences and tastes rather than donate to organisations that produce the most positive effect from their work. In response to these allegations, some approaches to donating have emerged that focus on applying a more rational approach to how people give and generate the most possible good from this act.

Much of the extant literature explaining why donors give explores specific antecedents that drive them to do this. However, broader explorations of why people may give based on personal tastes and preferences are scant. Additionally, prior research exploring donors’ considerations for the efficacy and impact of their giving presents contrasting results. This work commonly advances the viewpoint that donors say they want their giving to have an impact and positive effect but that they make no effort to assess whether it does.

This thesis investigates how members of the donating public perceive of their reasons for giving to charity, along with their considerations for the ultimate effect of this activity. The findings draw on qualitative data from forty interviews with individual donors, and charity fundraisers and managers to produce a holistic interpretation of these concepts. Key learnings from this work were that donors’ giving was motivated by autobiographical factors driving this, and that although they did not actively engage with the results of their donating, they evaluated effectiveness in other ways that were pertinent to them. A third emergent topic was also identified, which revealed how trust mediated their considerations for the results and effectiveness of their charitable giving.

In contrast to the aforementioned criticism of modern charity, this work proposes that donors’ personal reasons for giving and the ways in which they consider charity effectiveness are not incompatible concepts. Understanding why donors give and how they perceive of charity effectiveness is key to assisting them in making more informed choices about the charities they give to. The findings of this work build on the learnings from studies investigating the public’s donating motivations, concerns for efficacy and impact, and regard for charitable trust. They are likely to be of interest to those working in or researching the wider charity sector.



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Loughborough University

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© Dave Evans

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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Tom Thurnell-Read ; Marco Pino ; Katie Coveney

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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